Damn shed

For sale? No thanks

For sale? No thanks

As we’ve looked at properties over the years we’ve invariably absorbed certain truths that don’t require statistics to verify. One of these is that Japanese single family homes are very large in proportion to the amount of land they occupy. I’m sure someone has done a study using ratios of land to floor area, and I’m also sure that Japan is probably high on the list of countries where the rate is the smallest. This situation, of course, explains the cramping not only in suburbs but in rural neighborhoods that undergo residential development. Another certain truth that may be more difficult to prove is that Japanese have more stuff in relation to the amount of storage space available. The clutter of residential subdivisions is mirrored by the clutter inside individual homes, but more to the point it is characterized by one particular item that almost every property features: the tool shed.

In Japanese they’re called monooki, which literally means a place to put things. Sheds are hardly unique to Japan, but because of the aforementioned cramped conditions they are unavoidable, ubiquitous eyesores. Most are grey and metallic, which is bad enough, but because land is such a premium and people who build houses naturally want at much interior space as they can get, sheds take up a great deal of whatever exterior space is left over. We have seen so many properties that looked OK, and then we looked out a window and–BAM!–there’s a shed blocking whatever vista that window might look out upon. And it doesn’t always belong to the property we’re checking. Once we were inspecting a house in Nishi Shiroi in a very well-tended residential neighborhood. The kitchen had a nice corner window that looked out on the leafy walkway that separated the rows of houses, but the scene was totally destroyed because the neighbor had erected a shed on the edge of his property that interfered with the view. Obviously, anyone who bought this house would have to contend with that big, grey box and we mentioned this to the realtor, and he pointed out, quite naturally, that there was nothing anyone could do about it since the shed was on someone else’s property. This seemed strange to us, because there are lots of local property laws that regulate what sort of windows you must install to protect privacy and how much sunlight you have a right to and where the driveway should be positioned so as not to bother neighbors, but there seems to be no law regulating the placement of monooki.

So we’ve concluded that it’s us, not everyone else, because sheds are so common it must mean people actually like them. (They need them to store tools? Most people don’t have gardens big enough to justify that many tools) Last week, we rode past a relatively new housing development with near-identical houses lined up in neat rows, and every one had an identical grey shed positioned in the exact same spot on the property, as if it were a standard fixture they were proud of. There is a house not far from where we live with what should be a pleasant southern exposure except that there is not one but two large sheds situated in front of what we assume is the living room sliding doors. The only reason we can think of for this unbelievably bad choice is that there is a public road to the south of the house and the occupants don’t want passers-by to look in their living room window. We understand their desire for greater privacy, but that’s why curtains were invented.


  1. Sophelia · January 20, 2013

    It’s odd, isn’t it? I remember visiting the gorgeous home of a wealthy family. Everything inside was impeccable, but the outside of the house was cluttered with the usual debris~ kerosene containers, unused BBQs, sports gear and empty plant pots.


  2. eurasiaendtoend · January 20, 2013

    Hi again

    Thanks for recent articles. Today’s topics matches my theory (which I went into in a reply to an previous article) on Japanese homes being machines for living in.
    Beauty doesn’t come into it. The home is purely to be lived in, but not necessarily looked out of or made inviting for others to enter. And since it will be torn down to be rebuilt one day (maybe within the lifetime of current inhabitants) it isn’t even maintained well. It is hardly ever painted or redesigned.
    All this is a cause and effect of second-hand homes being unpopular. A buyer will surely want to tear it to rebuild a newer one so sellers let the building fall apart (not always literally) around them. The land is all that matters.
    And, yes, those sheds ! WHAT do they contain? Some people in apartments even have slim versions for balconies, almost as extensions of the living room.



  3. Dionisio Franca · January 22, 2013

    “The house is a machine for living in.” (Coubusier in Vers une architecture, 1923)


  4. eurasiaendtoend · January 24, 2013

    To take the machine analogy a step further, it is interesting that Japanese factories, warehouses and other spaces connected to manufacturing are mostly kept neat and tidy with a place for everything and everything in its place.
    Offices, on the other hand, like homes, can be a mess with stuff strewn around at random. Is there something about being “at home” that makes people want to fill all the space with their things?

    When I compare the situation here with Ireland, where I am from, people there tend to put more effort into keeping the outward appearance of homes more attractive. The biggest difference with Japan, of course, is the amount of land available for building on. Things like sheds are always at the back of the house.



  5. virginiasorrells · January 24, 2013

    I recall when an attractive, graceful older house in our former Tokyo neighborhood was demolished to make way for a larger one that resembled, like so many others, an expensive, overgrown public toilet. The older house had a shed tucked behind it. The new building was constructed with a square cut of one corner — it was built AROUND the shed. In this case, many meters of interior space were foregone to accommodate the outbuilding.


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